Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I voted.


It is election day, and though I have strong opinions about the presidential race, that’s not actually the main thing on my mind. I am just as preoccupied by smaller issues on ballots around the country today. The death penalty in California. Gay marriage in Minnesota. A tight race for governor here in North Carolina.

I’m thinking about people in Durham running for office who I see, regularly, out and about in the city. People who care about this place. I am thinking about a college classmate in Minnesota who recently became engaged to the love of his life, and waits today to see whether his state will recognize that union as legal. I’m thinking about women whose access to healthcare will be threatened from “day one” depending on the outcome of the presidential race.

I took part in early voting weeks ago. As a mennonite, I know this is surprising to some. Not only did I vote, but I’ve been bugging my friends to get to the polls -- particularly those who are most likely to forget, or to want to talk through the ideological issues surrounding whether or not to vote as an anabaptist. I’ve had those talks. I even went with one friend and stood in line with her for moral support, after she decided to vote.

I am a straight, white, middle class, educated person. I acknowledge that this puts me in a place of privilege. I benefit from the society in which I live in many ways. And so, as both a christian and as a citizen, I think it is necessary to speak out, via my vote as well as in other ways. Not to do so feels to me like trying to deny that I benefit from society, like trying to pretend I exist in some vacuum. It feels like ignoring the people who don’t have it as good as I do, like a little slap in the face to them. “Sorry, suckers! I have the luxury of symbolically choosing not to vote, in order to make a statement about the relationship between religion and government.” Meanwhile, ordinary people are just trying to figure out how to survive from one day to the next.

I tend to think symbolic gestures are for the educated elite. Excuse me while I try to act wisely in spite of my education.

There is such a thing as systemic injustice, and if you’re not going to break that system down, then you’d better work inside it for change. I am all for christian charity, but charity within a system that perpetuates injustice and inequality will always be severely limited. Government cannot solve everything, either, not ultimately, but at the very least I see it as necessary to vote for people and policies that have a positive impact on my neighbors' lives.

How can I say I love my neighbor, and turn a blind eye to issues that impact my community? I voted because I seek to love my neighbor, not because I love “my” country. A vote is not love, but a vote may well be one of many small acts of kindness done out of love.

There is a difference between loving one’s country as in the people you live here with, and loving one’s country as an abstract ideal, a mere concept. I don’t much care for the idea of the United States. I have no interest in showing my allegiance to a world superpower. What I care about are laws that directly affect the people around me.

So I voted. Voting is not the best thing I will do in my life. It is not the most loving, the most christian, or the most virtuous. But it is a pretty good thing, I think. And until Jesus comes back I plan to keep on doing it.

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